From Golden State’s Stephen Curry to Memphis’ Ja Morant, each franchise has a top player. This title is figuratively awarded by recent statistics, individual success, and marketability. Identifying a franchise’s most valuable player is tougher when that team lacks a clear superstar.
Back in the 2010s, James Harden was universally accepted as the face of the Rockets. Going through a rebuilding era, Christian Wood currently holds that torch for Houston.
Last season, Wood led the Rockets in both total points and rebounds, averaging 21.0 points and 9.6 boards per game. Prior to a season-altering injury, Wood was also ranked eighth in All-Star fan voting for the frontcourt of the Western Conference.
He’s been able to keep up similar levels of play this year. As of late March, he is averaging 17.9 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
With a total of 680 rebounds, Wood is hovering around the NBA’s Top 10 for total boards this season. Also, the 26 year-old has the highest player efficiency rating (19.2) among the team’s consistent starters.
Wood’s value may go unrecognized due to Houston’s second consecutive year at the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Despite dreadful nights of tanking, there are games where the center shows signs of superstardom.
On March 21, in a victory over the Washington Wizards, Wood scored a career-high 39 points. The big man’s historic night was accomplished on 14-18 shooting from the field and 8 successful three-pointers. This phenomenal performance was the driving force in overcoming a 23-point deficit.
Of course, there have been games where Wood has struggled defensively. That’s been a career-long issue for him, as he’s never been a plus defender. And there have been questions about his attitude on several occasions this season, but neither of those have been enough to squash his immense offensive talents.
Wood wasn’t expected to be the team’s best player. He was brought on board to be a complimentary piece alongside James Harden and became the team’s best player by default after Harden and Russell Westbrook were traded. But Wood finishes the season as Houston’s leading scorer, leading rebounder, and is currently their leading shot blocker (rookie Alperen Sengun still has a shot to pass him in blocks), while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Despite the criticism he receives, he was still Houston’s best player this year.
Others may argue that a younger talent, such as Jalen Green, can be considered Houston’s most valuable asset. While the 19-year-old exceeds the standards of a rookie, potential isn’t a valid factor when assessing the current state of a team.
Additionally, Green naturally receives more exposure throughout national media, as most top NBA Draft selections do in their first season. During this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend, Green was featured in the Clorox Rising Stars tournament and the forgettable AT&T Slam Dunk contest.
With the anticipation of acquiring a top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, Houston has a bright future ahead. However, the league won’t take notice of Christian Wood’s excellence until wins start to accumulate. The only question is: will Wood still be around when the team starts winning again?